For most of human history, it’s as if we have had long spring-times and only the briefest of summers, a lot of time to put down roots and sprout but almost none to mature. But now, around the world and especially in the developed countries, more people are living longer, healthier lives than ever before. Our normal life span, which stayed at an almost steady twenty years for most of human history , has leapt in an evolutionary eyeblink to seventy-eightyears in the West. Why is this so important? Think about how helpless we are as infants and children compared to other species. It takes us so long to be able to live without our parents’ support, so very long to develop our intelligence and adaptability and skills, to grow in our capacity for compassion and wisdom, good judgment, and discernment. To put it bluntly, it takes all of us a frightfully long time to grow up and many of us never do.
The sudden spurt in longevity over the last fifty years has changed the landscape for growing old. Doesn’t that make you wonder what these years are for? That’s precisely what I’ve been wondering for the past twenty years: How do I make the time ahead count? How can my generation and the ones coming after us not just fritter our later years away, not doze through our aging? – Sherry Ruth Anderson, “Ripening Time.”
The question I bring before us this morning is a simple one – as we journey through the chronology of our lives, are we ripening, or are we merely rotting? The rotting, of course, is inevitable – the ripening is not.
The next question is, what will we do about it?
What does ripening look like? How does it happen?
Most of us are familiar with the situation of fruit in our grocery stores – bananas that come from Ecuador, picked green – I’ve seen them there at the port in Guayaquil – and shipped around the world. This is done since a green banana travels much better than a ripe one. So, they are kept intentionally immature so that they travel better. Once they reach their destination, the ripening process can be induced – artificially. The primary chemical that is at play in ripening is ethylene – it is that which is fostered when you put your fruit in a brown paper bag to help it ripen. It’s enhanced if you put an apple core or a banana peel in the bag – increasing the ethylene and thus the ripening.
What’s the big deal? It seems to work, doesn’t it? The fruit can travel better, then it ripens on demand – sounds ideal.